Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Protect Garden Beds From Hungry Squirrels
Hungry squirrels can do serious damage to annual flower beds as they bury their collected fall harvest of nuts. To protect young plants from damage, sprinkle ground chili peppers over the surface of the soil. The squirrels don't like the "hot foot" sensation and will search elsewhere for easy digging. Use the hottest chilies you can find; cascabella or Thai chili is best. Coarsely grind the whole chilies in a blender or food processor, then sprinkle over garden beds. If you have chili seedlings the following spring, simply pull them as if they were weeds.
Care for Gift Plants
Poinsettias, cyclamen, azaleas, and Christmas cactus are popular plants to give as gifts this time of year. Make sure they are kept at a constant temperature, away from opening doors and windows. They need humidity, but don't leave the pot standing in water. Gift plants often come in plastic sleeves that don't allow for drainage. As soon as you receive a plant as a gift, throw that darned sleeve away! Use a saucer filled with gravel to act as a humidity tray.
Shop For Bare-Root Bargains
Bare-root plants will start showing up in nurseries and garden centers this month. Bare root is the most economical and stress free (from the plant's point of view) way to plant, plus it has the benefit of allowing plants to adapt to native soils. Look for roses, fruit trees, berries, and asparagus plus many other varieties of dormant or deciduous stock. If you can't plant right away, store the bare-root plants in damp moss so that the roots don't dry out.
Cultivate the soil around bedding plants. Use an Ames hoe or a long-handled cultivator to keep the soil turned. Cultivation prevents weed seeds from germinating and allows water and fertilizer to reach the roots easily. I like to cultivate after every rain to keep the soil looking fluffy.
Avoid walking in garden beds after a rainfall. Walking on damp soil compacts it, ruining the texture. A loose soil texture is important so roots can penetrate easily. Use stepping stones in areas that you must walk through for regular maintenance, or lay down pieces of 2 x 4s to spread the weight across a larger surface.